Review Summary: A brave and surprising transformation for a talented teenager.
Don’t you just hate it when you cannot put a name to a face and/or voice? Such an occurrence happened to yours truly about six weeks ago when watching a music video to a super-catchy electro-pop/new wave song. The female singer’s face looked familiar, yet could not be placed. There was an inflection to the voice which was recognizable, but no name came to mind. It was probably just a runaway Pussycat Doll or an English footballer’s wife. Hang on a tick; was that the hint of an Australian accent in the corny rap breakdown? Nah, it couldn’t be, since Kylie Minogue has some kind of Government protected monopoly on such music down under. Then, as the artist’s name flashed up on the screen, your shocked reviewer could only utter two words: “Holy Friar Tuck”.
Gabriella Cilmi’s progression from soulful 2008 smash hit ‘Sweet About Me’ to the aforementioned song ‘On A Mission’, is similar to the transformation Nelly Furtado made between ‘I’m Like A Bird’ and ‘Promiscuous’. Cilmi may still only be 18 years old, but the girl leaves no doubt that she is “on a mission” to swiftly become a woman, if the Barbarella-inspired music-video is anything to go by. Borrowing the bass-line from Joe Jackson’s 80’s hit ‘Steppin Out’, and including an infectious chorus that is part Donna Summer and part Van Halen, only the rap breakdown lets it down. Most impressive about the opener and lead single however, is how assertive the teenager’s vocals are in simultaneously handling the genre switch and selling the track’s theme.
To assist the transformation evident on ‘Ten’, Cilmi has predominantly ditched British hit-makers Xenomania for an assortment of American producers. Thankfully, she does retain one song of theirs; the inspired and updated disco sound of ‘Hearts Don’t Lie’, which channels Gloria Gaynor and could easily have found a place on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack! Elsewhere, Dallas Austin (TLC, P!nk, Boyz II Men) and Greg Kurstin (Lily Allen, Kylie Minogue) turn some knobs, while most tracks are placed in the hands of The Invisible Men, who are practically forgotten power-pop band Orson.
After a surprisingly impressive beginning, the middle to later stages of ‘Ten’ are not as convincing, since they are simply drawing from inspirations in search of a sound that fits. ‘Superhot’ is Kylie during her electro phase and ‘Invisible Girl’ is a dead ringer for early P!nk. On occasions, Cilmi’s vocals simply do not combine well with the relatively generic electronic backing (see the bonus Twenty Ten Version of ‘Sweet About Me’ for a perfect example), while the lyrics are mainly standard fare revolving around love and the loss thereof. Nothing is all that awful though and ‘Ten’ is pleasingly not all get-up-and-go, since the likes of ‘Defender’, ‘Glue’ and ‘Superman’ remind us that the singer-songwriter has the strong vocals to convincingly handle ballads.
Having swept the 2008 ARIA Awards and with sales of her debut LP nearing one million copies, this is a brave and risky reinvention for someone so early into their career. Hardly comparable to ‘Lessons To Be Learned’, ‘Ten’ deserves to be judged in isolation and will be viewed both positively (the natural progression of a pop singer) and negatively (bandwagon jumping to increase sales). It is far from a complete success, but includes enough flashes of brilliance to suggest that the stepping stones to an end point are being laid. Thankfully, the shelf life of a musician is much better than that of a gymnast, so at 18 years of age, Gabriella Cilmi has both the time and talent to potentially become one of pop’s biggest acts! For now though, there is still a fair way to go.
“It’s time for me to make a move,
And I know what I gotta do.
Coz I got everything to prove,
I got a plan I’m sticking to”.
Recommended Tracks: On A Mission, Hearts Don’t Lie & Defender.